The latest generation of Wi-Fi standards will enhance your network, explains Agile Network’s Byrne
14 September 2015 | 0
In today’s offices Wi-Fi is arguably more important than a place to sit or a flat surface for your laptop. Wireless technology has been steadily developing over the years with a surge forward more recently driven by smart phones and tablets with the convenient (and economic) ability to switch from mobile carriers and their tariffs to Wi-Fi when available. A decade ago or less, Wi-Fi was something ‘nice to have’ in the workplace and an object of consumer aspiration in the home. Now it is almost as essential as electrical wall sockets.
The technology is developing rapidly on several fronts, notably in the range and power of the access points and of course in the sophistication of the devices. Each generation of portable and handheld devices has more processing power and offers richer content to the users while Wi-Fi equipment and solutions has developed in parallel to deliver the levels of performance now demanded.
All Wi-Fi implementations have to conform to technical standards, which includes that perennially tricky question of backward compatibility so that people’s kit is not suddenly rendered unusable. The other side is that access point and networking technology has to be up to date in order for users to reap the full benefits of what their latest and greatest devices can do.
“The 802.11ac standard allows users to connect at higher speeds but also further from their Access Point. This can reduce the number of access points required although with greater distance comes the possibility of higher potential interference”
Internationally, that in turn means that competing equipment manufacturers have to work together to ensure interoperability of the standards. That is why in wireless as in ICT generally we constantly see de facto or pre-ratified standards that enter the market before they are officially signed off because the appetite is always there for the next generation. The most recent official Wi-Fi standard from the IEEE Standards Association is 802.1ac, ratified in late 2013. However Wave 2 of this standard is not yet official but is being followed de facto in the industry.
What does 802.11ac offer? Primarily, it is about speed. There is an ultimate aim in Wi-Fi that there should no discernible difference for the user between a wired and wireless connection. With the 802.11ac standard, and specifically the wave 2 supplementary standard, this ambition can become real. Wave 1 allowed real world speeds of around 700Mbps but Wave 2 brings us over 1Gbps although that will require two cables to each access point.
The 802.11ac standard uses the 5Ghz frequency only, which is a good idea that offers a huge leap in performance. The older 2.4GHz spectrum is saturated, allows for very limited RF planning and is no longer the solution of choice, especially in an office environment. Your Wi-Fi needs to support the older legacy clients but ensure that 802.11ac clients are catered for.
The 802.11ac Wave 2 standard allows Multi-user multiple input, multiple output (MIMO). Essentially this allows multiple users to have their services transmitted over numerous paths between the client and receiver. More users can have higher performance on the network. Wave 2 also allows certain channels to be bonded together to provide higher throughput, up to 160 MHz, although at the price of reducing the available channel planning so not generally recommended.
The 802.11ac standard allows users to connect at higher speeds but also further from their Access Point. This can reduce the number of access points required although with greater distance comes the possibility of higher potential interference.
With good planning and the correct equipment and configuration the 802.11ac standard will bring your wireless services right up to date and ensure that your users will no longer be looking for a cable.
Andrew Byrne is Technical Consultant with Agile Networks